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Breaking down the Spurs' big man rotation

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The Spurs have a perfect combination of skill in their three top big men. But after that things get murkier. Can they finally find a consistent fourth big man or are they destined to settle for specialists?

Ronald Martinez

We've already covered San Antonio's point guard and wing rotations, and while some questions loom large, the two positions are rather well stocked both in terms of talent and depth. Now, we move on to the most top-heavy slot in the Spurs' roster: the big man position.

Key rotation players

Tim Duncan

(74 games, 29.2 MPG. 15.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.9 BPG. 21.3 PER, 7.4 Win Shares, 5.33 Real Plus Minus)

What's left to say about Timmy? By now, pretty much everyone recognizes him as the most well-rounded big man in the league by a country mile. Duncan can anchor a defense as a rim protector, be an offensive hub and do the little things on both ends that make a team run smoothly. Even at 37, he is an impact player, a star.

Last season his jumper abandoned him and at times it seemed he had lost half a step but he came through (and then some) when it mattered. He will decline at one point, that's inevitable. But I trust Duncan so much that the fact that he decided to come back after having the chance to go out on top tells me he will be ready to once again lead the Spurs as far as they can possibly go.

Tiago Splitter

(59 games, 21.5 MPG. 8.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.5 APG. 16.5 PER, 4.3 Win Shares, 3.52 Real Plus Minus)

It's funny how Splitter's individual numbers get slightly worse each year while his impact grows exponentially. A couple of years ago, he was a backup big who posted a 20+ PER, a mark only star players are supposed to eclipse. He was a per-minute beast but couldn't play next to Duncan and wasn't fully used to the speed of the game when facing elite talent. Pop simply didn't seem to trust him.

Now, Tiago posts more workman-like numbers but his presence is essential in keeping Duncan fresh and his defense on traditional power forwards has eliminated one of the glaring weaknesses the Spurs have had in the years of their championship famine. Splitter will never get the respect he likely deserves but he seems fine with it. And that's the mark of a true Spur.

Boris Diaw

(79 games, 25 MPG. 9.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.8 RPG. 14.1 PER, 4.9 Win Shares, 1.95 Real Plus Minus)

Boris Diaw is the Spurs' change up, their trump card. What San Antonio lacks in star power, they make up for with depth and versatility and Diaw plays a huge part in that. There is no LeBron or Durant who can slide up and down a position or two to create a mismatch; there's only Boris Diaw's inside/outside game that serves to either counter those types or offer the Spurs a poor man's version of them.

Diaw's production waxes and wanes from game to game. He makes questionable decisions at times and his conditioning, while improved, still leaves something to be desired. Yet he is one of the most important players on the Spurs' roster come playoff season and remains one of the league's most unique talents.

In the rotation

No one. That's the problem with the Spurs big man rotation: outside of the top three there's no one who could realistically get consistent minutes on a good team. There's just an overabundance of flawed role players and specialists. And none of them seem to have an established spot in the rotation. So that's why I'm putting all of them in the next category.

On the outside looking in

Matt Bonner

(61 games, 11.3 MPG. 3.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG .429 3PT%.  11.2 PER, 1.8 Win Shares, 2.77 Real Plus Minus)

It seemed like Matty B's time with the Spurs was coming to an end, since his contract expired after last season. But the front office realized that, while not as productive as he once was, Bonner is still one of the best stretch fours out there.

Bonner is a dismal rebounder, a non-entity as a shot creator and a mediocre overall defender. But he can hit those open threes at a fantastic clip and that means a lot in today's NBA. He's not a guy you want playing 20 minutes a game but in the role he had last season he has value.

Jeff Ayres

(73 games, 13 MPG. 3.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, .605 TS%. 11.1 PER, 2.4 Win Shares, -0.32 REal Plus Minus)

Look at those numbers again, please. Those are perfect numbers for an energy fourth big man. Ayres boards well, scores at a high clip on the chances his more talented teammates spoon-feed him and he has no sizable negative impact on the team in his short minutes on the court thanks to his solid defense.

Unfortunately, the eye test is not as kind on Jeff and in this case, there's one stat that supports the perceived biggest weakness in Ayres' game: his terrible, Kwame-like hands. Ayres turns the ball over in nearly a quarter of the possessions he uses despite not being a shot creator. That's near Kendrick Perkins level incompetence in that area.

The good news is Ayres never came close to that dismal turnover percentage in his previous three years in the league. The bad news is he played more minutes last season that in those seasons combined. This upcoming campaign will show us whether Jeff can adjust and become a solid deep bench big or will fizzle out of the league as a turnover machine with few redeeming qualities.

Austin Daye

(14 games, 8.2 MPG. 4.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, .414 3PT%. 13.5 PER, 0.2 Win Shares, -2.31 Real Plus Minus)

I consider Daye a big man because that's how the Spurs used him in non-garbage time lineups and in his lone game in the D-League. And also because as an NBA wing, his flaws are too many. His ball handling isn't tight, he can't create for others and his perimeter D is bad. But as a big or at least a 3/4 hybrid, Daye has some potential.

He will never be a starting-caliber player but his three point shooting is well above average and he has the handles to attack a closeout better than most stretch fours. Unless he bulks up, he will be taken advantage of in the post. But how many teams have two low block threats coming off the bench? If Daye can rebound well enough to get on the floor, he could be Matt Bonner's heir apparent. If he's asked to play at the wing, he will probably be out of the league next off-season.

JaMychal Green and Josh Davis

(Rookies)

Davis and Green are long shots to make the roster, as they only have camp contracts to their name and the Spurs have six bigs (counting Daye) on their books. Yet there's always a shot the two undersized power forwards shock the world.

For Green, his best shot at securing a spot would be to show off the range on his jumper he displayed in France last season. Everyone knows he's athletic and energetic. But guys with those attributes and his physical skills are dime a dozen in the NBA and his understanding of team defense is not developed enough to earn a contract. If he shows off a solid mid-range jumper and potential as a corner three guy, though, that changes the perception of his skill set.

For Davis, the odds hinge on his rebounding prowess but are not good. He's 23-years-old already and doesn't seem to have that one extra skill to distinguish himself from a myriad other players. In all likelihood, both Green and Davis will be cut and allocated to the Toros. If they develop, they will earn a call up either from the Spurs or from someone else.

Aron Baynes

(53 games, 9.3 MPG. 3.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG. 9.7 PER, 0.6 Win Shares, -0.26 Real Plus Minus)

I debated whether including Baynes or not, since he is currently not under any type of contract with the Spurs and it's looking more and more like he will move on. But since the qualifying offer is still out there and Baynes is such a fascinating case study, I decided to leave him in.

Nothing in Baynes' numbers suggest he is in any way special. In fact, they paint him to be a below-average player whose saving grace is his rebounding. And even a keen eye can detect flaws in his game that don't show up in the box score. Yet because he is a gigantic human and has had unexpected success against clearly better players (Howard in 2013, Adams in 2014) there seems to be potential there, even if he's 27-years-old already.

Can the Spurs keep Baynes? Sure. The offers comparable players have gotten are well within what the Spurs can afford. But should they? Only if they see those flashes of competence as harbingers of better things to come. I'm not sure that's the case, since Baynes has never made the most of the few opportunities he's had in the past. But if he can build from his participation in the World Cup and develop some consistency, letting him go could become a mistake in hindsight. I wouldn't want to be in PATFO's shoes when the decide his fate.

Is there someone out there you feel could be that elusive fourth big for the Spurs? Can Baynes be that guy? How about Ayres, if he cleans up the turnover issues? Let me know what you think, Pounders.